Dan would never say it out loud for fear of being dropped down an elevator shaft, but he has a fantasy that he keeps playing over and over in his mind.
It’s a week and a half after the monster. Tentacles are still rotting in the street—disposal of the bodies was the first priority, respect for the dead and all that—and Dan and Rorschach wear particle masks to ward off the smell, two anonymous volunteers willing to take on the worst jobs. There’s a real spirit of brotherhood in New York; everyone wants to help. But most people would balk at sawing off pieces of tentacle to be carted away and burned. Rorschach, unsurprisingly, is good at that sort of thing.
But Dan’s fantasy is this, that under one of the collapsed buildings, hiding in the wreckage of a car, whatever, that there’s a trapped survivor. There aren’t any survivors. Had this been an earthquake, they’d have moved from search and rescue to salvage by now, and this is worse than an earthquake. The trapped victims that rescuers found at the beginning were gnawing on their own flesh, and most of them died shortly after.
At night, though, Dan wishes they’d find one survivor, just one. He wishes that Rorschach would find one. In his head, it’s always a six-year-old girl, and after they return her to her parents, everything’s okay. Not just the monster, but both of them, hidden behind masks so long that it’s all but destroyed their minds.
But all they ever find is more corpses.
Nixon’s platitudes are comforting, as are Gorbachev’s. Even with the stench of death all around them, life continues. Aid trickles in from around the world. From Antarctica, Adrian Veidt holds benefit telethons. (Rorschach accidentally sees one of them while watching the black-and-white TV they’ve hooked up in the apartment. Dan, returning home after buying groceries, stumbles across the shattered television on the sidewalk, looks up at the window, and shakes his head.) A group of anarchists has set itself up by Ground Zero, handing out free vegan slop to volunteers and occasionally picketing the headquarters of the New Frontiersman. Rorschach considers them a sinister element worthy of further investigation; Dan scoffs and secretly sort of agrees with their placards.
The city is broken, but healing. Slowly, in its own despair and against its will, it finds its rhythm.
They start patrolling at night again. Sometimes together, but that makes the memories all the more painful.
One night, Dan comes across Rorschach beating the shit out of a top-knot. He’s vicious, always has been—the kid has long since gone slack under his fists but he doesn’t give up. Dan has to drag him away before he cracks the guy’s skull open.
“Drug dealer,” Rorschach explains, as though it’s no big deal at all.
“Are you insane? Are you trying to draw attention to yourself?”
Rorschach blinks. All this time, and it’s still hard for Dan to get used to the fact that he has eyes.
“Can’t hide forever. Daniel.”
Dan punches him. Hard. Hard enough to knock him into a dumpster, where he sprawls there, stunned, blood trickling out of one nostril. Dan is immediately overcome with shame—despite having no shortage of temptation or provocation, he’s never raised a hand against his friend, and he’s probably the only person in Rorschach’s life who hasn’t—and reaches out a hand to him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m—”
“Is nothing,” Rorschach says, even though it is. He climbs to his feet and starts down the alley and Dan, feeling particularly suicidal, grabs his arm.
“Look, it’s just—we don’t know what Veidt is up to, if he even knows that we’re alive. We can’t go around acting like, like…”
“We can’t,” Dan says again, then mutters, “Oh, hell,” and kisses Rorschach.
He expects to get punched himself for it, and thinks that he probably deserves to be, and oh dear God what was he even thinking, he’s gone crazy enough for the both of them. The other man—his only friend, who he still somehow always manages to betray, and now twice in one night—freezes, a deer caught in the headlights, and then slams him up against the dumpster and kisses him back.
He’s pretty sure that Rorschach doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s probably—and it makes Dan ache to think about it—never even been hugged. He’s a terrible kisser, all teeth and saliva, but he won’t let Dan go. All of the rage of his interrupted rampage spurs him on. Dan tries to calm him down, running his hands through his ex-partner’s dyed hair, across his back, but it’s too late. Rorschach growls and bats his hands away. Dan’s unleashed whatever bright, terrible thing was lying dormant in him all this time. Too soon to tell whether he should regret it or not. He swallows the taste of copper, and he’s pretty sure that he’s never been so turned on in his entire life.
Rorschach’s hand fumbles at the waistband of his jeans.
“You don’t, um, have to…”
“You don’t think this is going to make things weird?”
Ice-chilled fingers grab his shaft, and tug at him roughly. He goes limp for a second and then looks down to see dark eyes in a face so pale that he is immediately reminded of black-on-white masks and he cries out. Rorschach bites his neck. It doesn’t take him very long to come—it’s been awhile—and when he reaches for Rorschach again, the other man shoves him away and won’t meet his eyes.
It’s so cold. He wishes—and it’s sillier than wishing for survivors—that he had his old costume, that he could wrap both of them in wings and protect Rorschach from the world that broke him. As though that would help. He follows Rorschach down the alley, a few careful paces away, back to their apartment.
When they try again, in the anonymity of a dark studio apartment on a single mattress, both of them are gentler, and he wants to cry at the wordless noises that Rorschach makes as he presses his face into the pillow.
It’s not that it isn’t awkward, because trading messy, clumsy hand jobs with his ex-partner is about a hundred times more awkward than the first time he slept with Laurie. It’s just that things are strange and awful enough that he thinks that maybe Rorschach will forgive him for making it all a little stranger.
“You still can’t go around beating people up. You’re not very subtle.”
Well, Dan thinks, That wasn’t quite as bad a conversation as it might have been.
“Just until Veidt—”
“Never mind Veidt. Have plan.”
Dan feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. “Plan?” he asks.
“Kept journal of investigation into mask killer.”
And then the words that mark his death, both of their deaths, maybe, but in any event, the end of all things:
“Mailed it to the New Frontiersman before we left for Antarctica.”